2 November 1999
Mail.ru - 500,000 Users Can't Be Wrong
If you've got a computer, you probably use email. And if you use email, there's a 50 percent chance your address ends in Mail.ru. In September the most popular postal system in Russia, which incidentally is also from St. Petersburg, celebrated its first anniversary - today it has over 500,000 users, and every day that number increases by 2,000 or 3,000. In an interview with Gazeta.ru in May, the manager and owner of the system, Port.ru, Alexei Krivenkov, made a guess that Mail.ru would have half a million users in a year's time. But it took just four months.
Mail.ru is a free postal system which allows you to read email not just with standard programs like Microsoft Outlook or Netscape Mail, but also through a web-interface, when work with email takes place directly on the site of the mail service in an Internet browser. What this means is that the owner of an @mail.ru address can go online wherever the Web is - not just at home or at work, but at a friend's place, or in any country that has Internet cafes. To read new messages or to send an email, all you have to do is to type in the http address, then your username and password.
In the West, similar systems (Net@ ddress, Yahoo!, Hotmail) came into fashion several years ago, but until Mail.ru, all attempts to organize a free postal system here were failures: Neither Extranet nor Pochta.ru were able to keep going for more than two months. Mail.ru, however, celebrated its first birthday a month ago, and what's more important, received financial recognition: Recently 20 percent of shares of Port.ru were bought up by a group of American investors for the impressive sum of $940,000.
There are three reasons for this popularity. Firstly, Mail.ru was fine-tuned from the very beginning to work in Russian: it supports all five encodings of the Russian Internet, has buttons in Russian and Russian documentation. Secondly, the system is closely related to other popular Russian sites: on the letters page there are announcements from Lenta.ru, Vesti.ru, Guelman.ru, and from these sites, accordingly, you can go directly to your postal box. The third reason is that Mail.ru is our postal system: using it is a patriotic act. Furthermore, an @mail.ru address doesn't contain any unnecessary information about a company or a city.
Mail.ru appeared as one of the Port.ru LLC projects - the Russian division of the American company DataArt Enterprises. The basis for the program core, the mPOP package which the program works on, was created by St. Petersburg programmers on the base of a small script written personally by Alexei Krivenkov, partner in DataArt and manager of Port.ru. The public beta-testing of the system began about a year ago, but Port.ru didn't immediately think about advertising: News of Mail.ru was primarily disseminated by word of mouth and by email. Many clients only found out about its existence from the addresses of their correspondents.
But the postal server is not the only popular project of Port.ru. There are others: the music site Music.ru, the tourism site Travel.ru and the Web notebook and organizer MoiBloknot (Base.ru). MoiBloknot deserves a whole article to itself: The system allows you to do with telephone numbers and addresses what Mail.ru lets you do with email - save them on the Internet and read them wherever there's a connection to the Web.
Essentially, Mail.ru and Base.ru are demonstrational sites - both are constructed on the base of products which DataArt develops and sells. Mail.ru, however, is also one of those rare projects of the Russian Internet that brings its creators a solid and stable income. The cost of advertising on the site is comparable to advertising in a glossy magazine: A text block and company logo on the site's home page costs $3,000 and a standard rectangular 468x60 banner on a letters page costs $6,000 a month.
Recently advertising ceased to be the only source of income for the system: The management of Port.ru discovered they had a unique instrument for carrying out sociological research. The site is visited every day by several hundreds of thousands of people who are ready to answer questions and vote on particular issues. Anyone who has the money can pose a question on the site, for example, I was recently asked whether I prefer Pepsi or Coca-Cola.
Like any large system, Mail.ru has its faults. The first problem many users encounter arises during registration. Half a million clients is a lot of people, so the address that you want probably already belongs to someone else. People with uncommon surnames have it easier - for example, I registered at the end of summer under the address firstname.lastname@example.org and didn't meet any competitors.
There can be, however, more serious problems. At 'rush hour,' when the server Mail.ru is being used by thousands of people, the site works at tortoise-speed; there have been times when people haven't been able to get through to the server for several hours at a time. This past summer the constant load on the system was so great that it forced Port.ru to widen the channel, and in September to move the server to the Moscow-based provider, Rossiya-on-lain.
New improved version
Now Mail.ru has all the features of a standard web-based postal system. It can handle attachments, forwarding, filter incoming mail (you can block any address you don't want to receive letters from) and save letters to different folders. Technology, however, doesn't stand still: Soon the system will have new capabilities. Founder Krivenkov promises that in the next version of mPOP there will be a function for collecting mail from different POP3 mailboxes, which is very handy if you have several addresses. A special general mailbox for letters will also be added to further reduce the load on the system and make it work more efficiently. And efficiency is what we need - there will be more and more addresses that end in mail.ru.
Source: The St. Petersburg Times